2014-06-18 / Front Page

Ohio More Compliant Providing Public Records, Audit Says

Reporters from Ohio newspapers and electronic media outlets found the availability of public records in the state have improved over the last decade.

When they requested public records from county governments, municipalities, police departments, and school districts, they received those documents 90% of the time.

That’s a far cry from 2004, when a similar audit of the availability of public records showed only a 70% compliance rate.

The Ohio Coalition for Open Government of the Ohio Newspaper Association sponsored the project.

It began April 21, and was completed within a few days.

Method

The Associated Press states reporters, referred to as “auditors” for the project, were sent to various offices across all 88 Ohio counties, with instructions to verbally request a series of documents.

They did not identify themselves, so as to have the same experience an ordinary citizen would when requesting information.

County offices were asked to provide copies of meeting minutes from the most recent meeting of the county commissioners, restaurant inspection reports from March 2014, and birth records from the week of April 13.

Municipalities were asked for the city budget document showing the salaries paid to police chiefs and the mayor’s most recent expense report.

Police departments were asked to turn over incident reports from the shift of offi- cers that most recently filed them.

School districts were asked to provide budget documents that listed the superintendent’s salary and the most recent expense reimbursement form submitted by the school district treasurer or chief fiscal officer.

All were asked for their records policies and the records retention schedules.

Information provided by ONA states in 2004, 50.1% of records requests were granted immediately. Another 2.6% were granted the following day.

Records requests were granted partially or conditionally 17.1% of the time.

Records were denied by procedure, by personnel being unavailable or too busy, or because the records requested were not considered public records 30.2% of the time.

The same audit conducted in 2014 showed 59% of the records were granted immediately, while 22.9% were granted the next day.

A total of 8.1% of the documents were partially granted, or granted with conditions.

Fulton, Henry Counties

In Fulton County, auditors were granted all the documents requested: meeting minutes, restaurant inspections, birth records, the records policy, and retention schedules.

Auditors also checked at the city of Wauseon, where the records policy and retention schedules were turned over immediately.

Information listing the police chief’s salary and the mayor’s expenses was turned over “within a day or two,” auditors said.

The police department turned over incident reports immediately.

The auditors also did their checks at the Wauseon school district, where all information requests, including the superintendent’s salary and CFO expenses, were granted immediately.

Of the four school districts in the four-county area audited, Wauseon was the only one to turn over salary and expense figures immediately.

In Henry County, auditors received all of the requested information from county offices with the exception of the restaurant inspections.

Those were granted within a day or two.

The city of Napoleon turned over all its information immediately, but the police department took a day or two to provide the requested incident reports.

The Napoleon school district granted its records policy and retention schedule immediately, but took a day or two to turn over the superintendent’s salary and the treasurer-CFO’s expenses.

Williams, Defiance Counties

In Williams County, auditors received the county commissioner minutes, records policy, and records retention schedule immediately, and got copies of the restaurant inspections within a day or two.

But auditors considered their request for birth records obstructed by either being required to submit a written request or providing the information with conditions.

The city of Bryan turned over all information immediately.

But auditors said they were obstructed by the Bryan Police Department, which required a written request for incident reports or provided them conditionally.

The Bryan school district gave auditors its records policy and retention schedule immediately, and provided the superintendent’s salary and treasurer-CFO expenses within a day or two.

Defiance County offices cooperated, handing over the information requested.

The city of Defiance turned over the police chief’s salary and mayor’s expense information, but auditors were obstructed in obtaining the city records policy and retention schedules.

Auditors noted they either had to provide a written request or were given the information with conditions.

Defiance police provided incident reports immediately.

Auditors went to the Northeastern Local School District, where the superintendent’s salary and treasurer-CFO expenses were provided within a day or two.

The records policy and retention schedule requests were granted immediately.

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